How to Start Travel Hacking in Canada in 2024

Travel Hacking in Canada was terrifying to me when I first heard about it. We have notoriously expensive travel costs and I didn’t think that it would be easy to do. I was wrong. What travel hacking in Canada really means is manipulating rewards programs. You find and exploit loopholes in credit card rewards programs and airline promotional offers to rack up your points and then redeem them for nearly free flights and hotel rooms. Canada: let’s do this!

How travel hacking in Canada can save you a lot of money

It saved my holiday budget. When I checked out the Air Canada website and went through the motions of booking a flight from Winnipeg to Mexico. I clicked on their Aeroplan button and found the Redeem button. From there, I selected a departure and return date and chose how many people would be travelling. The website immediately pulled up a bunch of different flights but instead of seeing exorbitant prices for round-trip tickets, I saw the costs in Aeroplan miles, and it blew my socks off.

A round-trip economy flight for 2 adults, a toddler, and an infant with two free checked bags, preferred seats, and priority boarding was only around 50,000 points each! But the site had a credit card promotion that gave me a ton of points. Just for signing up for a credit card, a quarter of the plane ticket cost is covered. A similar round-trip ticket with slightly worse perks, only one free checked bag instead of two, would cost around $1800. I am hooked.

Travel hacking in Canada: how to get started

Now, here are some basic steps for the average Canadian. That is if they want to step into travel hacking for themselves and make their next vacation cheaper than they ever thought possible. I genuinely believe this hobby can be fun and rewarding, no pun intended.

Research Your Next Vacation

The key is to do this as early as possible. Where do you want to go? Even if it’s somewhere within Canada, you can travel hack it. Don’t spend hours researching multiple credit cards, hotels, and airlines to find which ones have the sweetest deals. If you’re like me, that will be the fastest way to abandon this travel hacking game altogether. For now, start by thinking about where you actually want to go next. Start broad and narrow down your plans:

  • Which country do you want to visit?
  • Which area of that country?
  • Which cities are in that area?
  • Which airlines travel to that city?
  • Which hotels are in that city?

Answer those five simple questions first, and you’ll be well on your way to making your next vacation a lot cheaper because airlines partner up with hotels and staying in these hotels is a great way to increase your rewards, either by taking advantage of a discount, sale, or promotion, or just using your rewards credit card to earn more rewards.

Tips to fly at low cost

There are many air travel hacks. Certainly, travel credit cards offer rewards to help you. But it would be a mistake to limit yourself to this strategy for reducing the cost of your plane tickets.

First of all, you need to be aware that airlines use sophisticated technologies that adapt flight prices according to the frequency with which you search for a particular flight and your browsing location. Using a virtual private network like NordVPN, McAfee or PureVPN will prevent airlines from knowing where you’re browsing from, which they often use to alter prices.

A VPN lets you select a server in another country. This is particularly useful, as flight prices can vary according to the perceived economic situation of the place you’re travelling to. Compare flight prices and finalize your purchase using the VPN server in the country with the lowest price.

Next, try to make your stopovers as long as possible. Stopovers last at least 24 hours and can extend over several days. Booking a flight with a stopover is therefore an excellent way of getting two vacations for the price of one. Finally, boarding last on the plane increases the chances that you’ll be offered an incentive (such as a free night’s accommodation) to take another flight if the plane is overbooked, or a free upgrade to first class.

Research credit cards

Credit card rewards are the most important aspect of travel hacking. Airlines will usually have a partner that lets you accumulate points or miles when using their credit card. Then you can turn those rewards into flights, car rentals, hotel stays, etc. Check your preferred airline’s website for any promotional offers they might be running for credit cards. You can also use a credit card comparison tool.

Spending thousands of dollars just to qualify for points is what you might have to do. As inflation and prices are rising, you might want to be careful with your spending and set up a budget. Don’t be afraid. There are lots of credit cards on the market with various promotional offers for points and realistic spend requirements. So, you will absolutely be able to find something that fits your budget and travel needs.

Apply for the right credit card

Effective travel hacking is hinged on this crucial step: selecting the perfect credit card. The right card can unlock a trove of points, miles, and perks, catapulting your travel experiences to new heights. At the time of writing, these are the best travel credit cards in Canada:

RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card

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The RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card is one of the best credit cards RBC has to offer. You could snag up to 35,000 bonus Avion points, basically giving you a free ride anywhere within North America or the Caribbean.

Every dollar spent accumulates an Avion point, with a 25% boost on eligible travel expenditures. Enjoy no blackout dates or seat restrictions – if there’s a spot available, it’s yours, even during bustling seasons. Flexible redemption starts at just 7,500 points for one-way flights.

Winter enthusiasts will love the Friday Friend Pass, offering 2-for-1 ski passes to participating resorts. Then, enhance your everyday essentials with savings on gas, boosted Petro-Points, and elevated Be Well points at Rexall. Plus, enjoy the convenience of $0 delivery fees with a complimentary 12-month DoorDash subscription.

Eligibility requirements: Minimum annual personal income of $60,000, or minimum annual household income of $100,000, or a total minimum of $250,000 investable assets. Must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

But this card is not your only option

These cards don’t seem right for you? You may want a different travel credit card.

Pro travel hackers might apply for four or five cards every year, but don’t feel pressured. Start with one that you know you can handle. The absolute worst thing you can do when travel hacking is to carry a balance on your credit card.

Credit card churning

The trick is so well-known in the U.S. that some credit card companies have set up rules to limit credit card churning. In Canada, it’s still relatively easy to do, and groups like Churning Canada on Reddit and Credit Card Churning on Facebook can help you.

First, look for credit cards with the most attractive welcome offers and low annual fees. Take note of spending requirements and of the date you’ll earn your rewards. Then apply only for those cards you are likely to be approved by checking the eligibility criteria. To qualify for welcome rewards, you generally need to spend a specific amount over a given period. Once you’ve met the requirements, you should receive the sign-up bonus. Now redeem your travel rewards and close your account!

Use your rewards credit card a lot

One last thing about using your new rewards credit card: use it all the time. Charge every nickel you can to the credit card. For travel hacking to be most efficient, you need to rack up as many rewards as you can as fast as you can. So, put away the debit card, shove the cash under your mattress, just kidding, don’t do that, and swipe that plastic everywhere you go.

Log the date you applied, the date you were approved, the date you received the card in the mail, your passwords, the details on how you earn points with the card, your total points, etc. Doing this will help you feel much more at ease about this travel hacking process because you won’t have to worry about forgetting any valuable information or missing an important date.

Use your travel rewards

You’ve been spending money on your credit card, you’ve earned the promotional offer, and now you’ve banked enough points to pay for your vacation. Good for you! Now you have to use them correctly.

When you book your flight, you will see that points don’t cover every cost associated with travel. There are fuel taxes, airline fees, baggage fees, and surcharges that you will have to pay. On the plus side, however, depending on how many points you have, those fees might be the only things you have to pay out-of-pocket for! If I have to pay $200 for some random taxes, but I saved $2,000 because I paid my family’s tickets with points, I’m calling that a win.

Another important point to remember is to try and stay loyal to one airline and a hotel chain that partners with that airline. These companies reward loyalty. Pair that with the rewards you’re earning with your promotional or sign-up offer and the money you spend on your card, and you’ll accumulate more rewards than you can count.

Did the travel hacking bug bite? Then keep earning those rewards. Be daring and consider applying for more credit cards to nab these big sign-up bonuses then cancel the card once you have the points. Or, keep using the first card you applied for if it suits you and the annual fee is balanced by the rewards you earn. Just remember to take excellent notes and pay your credit card bills on time.

Tips to book your hotel room

As with flights, using your points is just one way of reducing the cost of your hotel stay. Start by using a last-minute booking application like Hotwire. Then, ask for an upgrade at the desk, especially if it’s a special occasion like a birthday or graduation trip. Hotels rely on customer feedback, and staff are often asked to go the extra mile to make you feel comfortable and welcome. You’re more likely to get an upgrade if you ask at the end of the day, when front desk staff have a better idea of how busy the hotel is. Finally, by becoming a CAA member, you can get discounted rates at many hotels in Canada and the U.S., such as Best Western and Hilton.

Travel hacking in Canada can be really easy. I sometimes think of it like a job, and the points are my salary. It takes a little reading, commitment, and financial discipline but you can do this! A few hours a month, sure, but that’s definitely worth some cheaper flights and hotel rooms on your next vacation, whether in Canada or outside of it.

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Thomas Guenther earned his Master's of Journalism from the University of British Columbia in 2016. He has written professionally for years and taught communications at Red River College. He has written on a wide range of topics including finance, politics, religions, and ethics to name a few.